Richard Rodriguez deftly captures the experience of growing up between cultures. Reading about his childhood, I felt a great affinity with many of the struggles he went through, while also realizing the stark differences, which reflects what this book manages well: tension.

Rodriguez establishes a tension between his private and public life and the manner in which his education blurred that line, separating him from his family and his past. He realizes that his ability to write an autobiography in this essay format for the “gringos,” he reveals his rupture from his past: “In singing the praise of my lower-class past, I remind myself of my separation from that past, bring memory to silence” (6). Rodriguez explores his education in order to discern his alienation from his family, a result of mixing private and public selves, represented in language.

As a child growing up, he spoke a private language with his family, Spanish; opposed to his public language, the language, English, he learned in school. This tension runs throughout the book, even when he explores the tension in the old, Latin Catholic mass–a private experience between the individual and God– and the new liturgy in English with the hand shaking and the congregation pronouncing the prayers with the priest– a communal experience.

Ultimately, though, the desire for authority, represented in the old mass, and his views on affirmative action, while thought provoking, slow down the narrative essays and present a Rodriguez cut off from his past (something he readily admits), ultra conservative, and at times, pedantically pretentious.

Rather than feel too privileged and over-educated to relate to the less privileged, Rodriguez might find that empathy and imagination, two essentials for any writer, might take him a long way. While I respect his acknowledgment of never being able to relate to poor migrant workers, he might empathize more and find ways to relate and help the less fortunate. At the same time, I can also respect how he doesn’t offer any concrete solutions to complicated problems.

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